Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Life I Left Behind - Colette McBeth

About the book....
Six years ago, Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead. Only a chance encounter with a dog walker saved her life. Melody's neighbour and close friend David Alden was found guilty of the crime and imprisoned, and the attack and David's betrayal of her friendship left Melody a different person. She no longer trusts her own judgment, she no longer trusts her friends. In fact, she no longer really has any friends. She’s built a life behind walls and gates and security codes; she’s cloistered herself away from the world almost entirely.

And then, soon after David is released from prison, Eve Elliot is murdered in an attack almost identical to Melody’s. With the start of a new police investigation, Melody is suddenly pulled from her ordered, secluded life and back into the messy world around her. But as she learns more about Eve's murder, Melody starts to wonder if perhaps David hadn’t betrayed her after all...if perhaps the killer is someone else entirely, someone who’s still out there, preparing to strike again.

Narrated alternately by Melody and by Eve’s lingering ghost, The Life I Left Behind is a taut thriller and an intimate look at two young women bound together in ways neither of them could ever have predicted. Colette McBeth has proven once again that she is a master of suspense.

About the author...

Colette started her career as a trainee reporter at The Journal in Newcastle before moving to the BBC where she was a news correspondent for 10 years.

She has reported on the One, Six and Ten O’Clock News and her record for talking live on air is 45 minutes non-stop. Throughout that time she promised herself she would write the story that had been swimming around in her head since she left university. In January 2011 she enrolled on the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course and began writing Precious Thing, finishing it on maternity leave with her third child.

Colette lives in West London with her husband and children and iThe Life I Left Behind is her second novel and whilst writing it dreamt of being beside the seaside.
My thoughts...
I was given an advance proof copy of this book by Georgina Moore at Headline in exchange for an honest review which I'm more than happy to give.  I had devoured Colette's first novel Precious Thing, staying up late then setting the alarm for early the next morning so I could finish it off before work. Shortly after I had read it I met Colette at a book launch for another author's book and she told me about the book she was writing writing - I have literally drummed my fingers, impatiently waiting to get my hands on it since then. 

The two main characters in this book are Melody and Eve, both were attacked and left for dead in very similar circumstances.  Both happen to look quite similar and outwardly both appear to have been attacked by the same person.  There's only one main difference one died and one survived.  

The book begins when Eve's body is found by a dog walker, what we don't know at the time is the tenuous connection between the two women.  The detective in charge of the case is Victoria Rutter, her ex-boss was the person in charge of the original case where a friend of Melody's was charged for her attempted murder and it's shortly after his release that Eve's body is found. Victoria is nothing but thorough and her gut instincts hold her back from making rash, impulsive decisions - despite pressure from her soon to be retired ex boss.

What a book, for such a lovely, gentle, person Colette has a disturbingly, dark imagination.  She did it again, gave me a book I couldn't put down.  The story is told from both Eve and Melody's perspective and very quickly I forgot that one of them was actually dead.

Initially I wasn't sure how I felt about half the narrative coming from a 'dead person'. It would have been so easy for Eve's narrative to have come across as far-fetched but Colette didn't over milk her part in the story. She was never seen or heard from the grave, something I would have had difficulty with, she just dissected the original case layer by layer, revealing inaccuracies and facts missed.
After the first couple of chapters the story gathered momentum and moved like a rapidly, flowing river that suddenly hits a wall, forcing me to hold my breathe and read faster and faster, then just as quickly receding to calmer moments. The characters growing and evolving at the same pace until the veneer that held them together shattered allowing their true selves to emerge.

Colette gave us characters that on the surface appeared to blend into the background, were not striking in any significant way, until the story about life before the attacks on both Melody and Eve begins to unfold through information drip fed to us by Eve through transcripts and by memories and feelings that evolve in Melody's mind as she re-visits her life pre her attack trying to fill in the blanks about how, why she came to be left for dead. Time and information attaching itself to her life a shield, bolstering her character, enabling her to fight back.

The book is full of tension. My opinions forming and changing with every twist about Melody's friends and family and Melody herself as I tore through the pages.  Nobody, it appeared was exactly as they seemed.  The stress felt by Melody caused by the second attack, Eve's murder was palpable, the facts stacking up only to be shattered in an instant.  I felt I was walking the tight rope with her as her character appeared to crumble and her true day to day existence emerged. 

As ever with a thriller I try to guess who-dun-it and as the facts stacked up I thought I had it in the bag only for another twist to emerge forcing my opinion to change. I did briefly guess the murderer only to dismiss the idea as ludicrous, swinging back and forth many times between others. This book really was a thrilling read, with more victims than Melody and Eve - the psychological effects of the case putting me on the wrong foot, time and time again. 

This book has left me with a few questions. Who can you trust, who is the victim, the person attacked or everyone around them, do we ever really know our friends, are they always showing their true self? Is it right to chase justice or should we turn a blind eye if it doesn't directly affect us - would Eve still be here if she hadn't, seen one small, seemingly insignificant object?

Colette played ping pong with my mind, dragging me back and forth out of my comfort zone into the heart pounding, breath holding, silent pleading, finger crossing world that only ever occurs when your imagination has been over worked and pulled tight with psychological tension.  

She has once again struck gold for me, an addictive read, with characters that emerged and grew along with the story, each tied together by the crime and the victims, yet each having their own story and their own reasons for not showing their true cards. Friendships, solid and tenuous affected by life events and communication or sometimes lack of it. Even DI Rutter has her reasons not to take the easy route, wanting justice at the same time as a conviction.

In the end who would have thought that a childhood game would have such a life changing and important role when murder was on the menu, saving a life not once but twice?  I highly recommend The Life I left Behind as well as Precious Thing, two very cleverly, but different reads by the hugely talented Colette McBeth - NEXT!!

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